Flat Design is “In”… But For How Long?

Web design is just like fashion in that every passing season brings along a new trend. Sometimes these trends stick around (the skinny jeans of the internet) and sometimes they are quickly stashed away at the back of the web design wardrobe, like a dodgy pair of metallic gold leggings.

The biggest trend in web design at the moment is flat design, which you may recognise from the Windows 8 operating system (and the soon-to-be WordPress.com dashboard, previewed this week). Not to be outdone, Apple have followed suit, doing away with drop shadows and glassy buttons in the iOs7 – a big change in direction for Apple, who almost single-handedly started the ‘skeumorphic’ trend.

Flat design
Flat design icons

When done well, flat design looks simple and modern, making it particularly appropriate for digital brands (although I’m not the only one who thinks the flat ebay logo looks boring and corporate compared with its old jumbled, mixed-case lettering). But when done badly, flat design is a disaster. This pub sign represents everything that is wrong in the design world at the moment.

Dog and Partridge

Quaint English pub signs are no place for cutting-edge, trendy design; the result is a ‘garage forecourt’ effect: boring, generic, characterless. Luckily, locals protested and a replacement, painted pub sign is soon to follow!

Even though flat design has its place online, I think to some extent flat design limits creativity. As well as this, most people with a basic grasp of Photoshop could design a flat logo – so paying a fortune to a design agency for something you could make yourself just doesn’t make sense. It’s only a matter of time until brands figure that out.

As well as this, the limits of flat design make it especially difficult for designers to leave their unique stamp. By its very nature as a minimalist style, there is only so far that flat design can go. If brands want to set themselves apart from the competition, they need to be more creative in their design.

As flat design takes over, we will become nostalgic for techniques neglected since the advent of Creative Suite. What I predict (and hope) we will see in the not too distant future is a return to artisan design techniques:

  • Typeface designers will revive handwriting / script styles. No two people’s handwriting looks identical; nor should two brand fonts!
  • Logo designers will try their hand at old techniques such as Victorian-style engravings or cameos.
  • A picture is worth a thousand words – in the days before literacy, shopkeepers would advertise their products with a pictorial sign. Text in brand logos may disappear completely and be replaced with images.
  • Detail will be the new simple. Brands will trade in minimalism for a more interesting visual experience.
  • Unicorn engraving
    Could this be your next brand logo?

    With Microsoft and Apple leading the pack in flat design, I’m sure this trend will continue for a while yet. But once it’s over, I hope that hand-drawn and image-based design will take its place, creating a more diverse, visually inspiring web.